George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 2 January 1778

From Richard Henry Lee

Chantilly in Virga Jany 2. 1778

Dear Sir,

The inclosed came to my hand only a few days past altho from its date it appears to have been written long since. There are some useful suggestions in it, and therefore I send it to you—I do not know the Writers reason for dating it in April 1776 when from some parts in the body of the writing, it must have1 been written in the cours of the year 1777.2 The arts of the enemies of America are endless, but all wicked as they are various. Among other tricks they have forged a pamphlet of Letters entitled ‘Letters from Gen. Washington to several of his friends in 1776.’ The design of the Forger is evident, and no doubt it gained him a good Beef Steak from his Masters—I would send you this pamphlet if it were not too bulky for the Post, as it might serve to amuse your leisure hours during the inaction of Winter3—We hear, that Lord Cornwallis is gone to England, probably to encourage the hopes of Administration upon their sending out strong reenforcements in the Spring.4 I am just informed from Williamsburg that the Assembly have [passed]5 the Confedration Nem. Con.6 and have Voted 2000 men to be drafted from the Single Men to fill up the regiments; also 10 regiments of Volunteers to be quickly raised & marched to the Army fir 6 Months7—They have adopted a very extensive Taxation which will produce a large sum of money, and thereby produce the most salutary consequences8—The injury my health received at York is not yet removed, but I hope to be in Williamsburg to assist in Assembly by the 12 or 14 of this months—I wish you the compliments of the Season, and remain with true affection dear Sir yours Sincerely

Richard Henry Lee

ADfs, PPAmP.

1Lee inadvertently struck out this word on the manuscript.

2The enclosure on the management of the light infantry by Lt. Col. Persifor Frazer has not been found, but see GW’s letter to Lee of 15 February.

3This pamphlet, which was printed in London in 1777 as Letters from General Washington to Several of His Friends in the Year 1776, consists of seven forged letters supposedly from GW to Lund Washington, John Parke Custis, and Martha Washington, written in June and July 1776. The author of the letters makes GW appear to criticize Congress and express eagerness for a negotiated peace with Great Britain. The purported letter to Martha Washington, dated 24 June 1776, also was printed separately in London and appeared as a handbill in New York or Philadelphia in the winter of 1777–78 (see GW’s reply to Lee of 15 February). James Rivington reprinted the rest of the letters in his Loyalist Royal Gazette (New York) in February and March 1778, and two other Loyalist papers, the Royal Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Ledger (both Philadelphia), did the same in March. GW suspected that John Randolph (c.1728–1784), the former attorney general of Virginia and an outspoken Loyalist, had written the letters (see Tilghman, Memoir description begins Memoir of Lieut. Col. Tench Tilghman, Secretary and Aid to Washington, together with an Appendix, containing Revolutionary Journals and Letters, Hitherto Unpublished. 1876. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends , 166). For other reports on the publication of these letters and GW’s reaction to them, see Landon Carter to GW, 10–20 Mar., Lee to GW, 6 May, GW to Lee, 25 May, and to Landon Carter, 30 May 1778.

In 1795–96, much to GW’s disgust, the letters resurfaced in a number of publications, including Benjamin Franklin Bache’s Aurora (Philadelphia). GW attempted to contact Rivington through a third party, Benjamin Walker, in order to discover the author of the letters, but to no avail; and in response to their continued reproduction, GW felt compelled to disown the letters officially on 3 Mar. 1797, his last day in office as president, when he sent a formal refutation to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering (see GW to Walker, 12 Jan., to Pickering, 3 Mar., and to Jeremiah Wadsworth, 6 Mar. 1797, n.3). For the contents and publication history of the spurious letters, see Worthington Chauncey Ford, The Spurious Letters Attributed to Washington (Brooklyn, 1889).

4Cornwallis left for England on 16 Dec. 1777.

5Lee wrote a word here that looks like “pasessed.”

6Nemine contradicente, meaning with no votes in the negative (Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Henry Campbell Black. Black’s Law Dictionary: Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern. Rev. 4th ed. St. Paul, 1968. description ends , 1188).

7Lee is referring to “An Act for speedily recruiting the Virginia Regiments on the continental establishment, and for raising additional troops of Volunteers,” which was approved in amended form on 9 January (see GW to James Innes, this date, n.1).

8A committee of the Virginia house of delegates appointed to consider a motion “that a supply be provided for the public exigencies” reported its recommendations on 13 Dec. 1777, but the house did not pass “An act for raising a supply of money for publick exigencies” until 22 Jan. 1778, with the senate concurring on the following day (Va. House of Delegates Journal description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, on Monday, the Twentieth Day of October, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Seven. Richmond, 1827. description ends , Oct. 1777–Jan. 1778 sess., 77–78, 126, 133; Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends , 9:349–68).

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